Thankful Thursday – Puppy Joy

Our neighbors moved away, and of course they took their darling black lab with them. But as we more or less co-parented our dogs, it felt like losing not just our friends but also our pet.

Izzy, who had never known life without her next door bestie, became depressed. Her appetite dropped off. Several times a day she’d walk outside and look toward the fence to see if her friend was coming. No matter how much we walked her and loved on her, it still wasn’t the same as having the love of two families.

So we began puppy discussions. Maybe spring, perhaps (definitely?) by summer, when life is more flexible.

But then Tween and I spent a weekend visiting Teen in college. During breakfast in the hotel, a woman holding a puppy walked through the lobby. Teen looked at me and ran. I looked at Tween and ran. Tween followed us both. In an instant all three of us had ditched breakfast in favor of sprawling across a lobby floor to let an eleven-week old dachshund/terrier mix jump and lick and love all over us.

Lowrider had the body of a dachshund and the chocolate-brindle coloring of a terrier. To sit, he scooted backward and did a funny twist-flop with his hindquarters. He was sweet and loveable–and we loved him. A “foster fail,” his mom arrived pregnant to foster care and she and all his siblings had been adopted, leaving him behind in his now-forever home.

Both my boys lit up with puppy joy. Teen’s had (so we’ve all had) a stressful, difficult college transition. Not enough joy in his life, which is so not what you want for your kid in their first semester of college. I thought, maybe puppy-time is now, for the boys, for Izzy, for all of us…

Petfinder.com is my go-to. Other than our four snakes, all our pets are adopted–from neighbors whose kids ‘outgrew’ their pet companions or from shelters. Just over eight years ago, Petfinder found us our darling Izzy.

Izzy was our dog from the moment we saw her sweet picture. Even when I had a middle-of-the-night panic attack, waking Guy to say I wasn’t sure I could do this, that I was afraid I’d be banished to the back deck, outside forevermore with a puppy who would otherwise stain our beautiful hardwood floors. He said, “Too late. We’re going to meet her in the morning. We’ll figure it out,” and we both went back to sleep.

He was right. We fell head-over-heels immediately. So I checked Petfinder, and found a chocolate-brindle version of Izzy. By the time we got home and discussed her with Guy, she’d been adopted. A few days later, I found another sweet face; and again, she was gone by that evening.

The puppy-hunt felt discouraging on top of a discouraging season. I couldn’t do it for long.

I didn’t have to.

After a quick Saturday conversation with our new neighbors, they texted us a puppy picture on Sunday. Within an hour, they had adopted a six-month old puppy and we had adopted a ten-week old puppy.

Meet Jasper, our boxer-shepherd.

He’s a big dog in the making who believes he’s a lap dog. The moment I took him in my arms, he snuggled into my arm pit and fell asleep–well, hello there! With a towel over his (cat carrier) crate, he sleeps through the night; and he’s learning to potty appropriately, though at ten weeks, it will take time.

He wants to play with Izzy, the cats (chasing is so much fun!), the rabbit (more chasing!). Initially, Izzy looked annoyed at Jasper, turning her head sideways with an I could step on him expression. Slowly, she is learning to play with him. The cats mostly hide in our bedroom, although even they, having grown up with two big dogs in the house, recognize he doesn’t pose too much of a threat. Our animal rescue will eventually again achieve equilibrium.

And when Jasper’s had all his shots, when Izzy has grown accustomed to another pet-love under our roof, we’ll re-open the fence and see if our old lady dog won’t mind teaching some younger pups how to be besties.

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Thankful Thursday – Celebrate

Oh, friends, what a week!

Thursday to Thursday, I’m not sure there is any adequate way to sum it up, but let’s try this: joy, and grief, and joy… In all, celebrate.

One week ago we were in the final hours of the school year, during which both kids managed to drag out the drama and just about drive their mama over the edge. All is well, thank God, but all became well in those final hours. Sheesh!

Celebration commenced. Baccalaureate services and parties led to graduation and graduation parties. Teen graduated–hooray and hallelujah, amen! WOO HOO!

Honestly, I cried on and off (with greater and lesser degrees of humiliation) Wednesday-Thursday. Maybe I was cried out by Friday, but I made it through graduation tear-free. Perhaps it was the ear-to-ear smile Teen wore beginning to end. Or his willingness to at least quickly allow a hug or give me a quick peck on the cheek. I saw his happiness, his pride, his joy. It overflowed.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day of “summer,” this late-sleeper woke up early and ready for yoga. When asked to choose my intention, the first word that popped to mind was “release,” which I immediately rejected: “release” held way too much possibility for full-on sob-fest! So I very carefully selected, “Celebrate.”

Yes. I can celebrate. Let’s celebrate: graduation, growth, summer, new adventures on the horizon, life lived and life ongoing.

This week we have joyfully celebrated graduations, and we have–with tremendous sadness and loss–celebrated lives well lived. Tucked between graduation parties, we attended a memorial service for an amazing man, a Navy Admiral, a gentleman who poured his life into his country, his family, his church, his business, and the Boy Scout troop in which each of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Troop in which my boys also participate: one has Eagled; another is on track. My boys attended the memorial service in Class A uniform, and each reported feeling impressed by the military salute (what American doesn’t bow low for a military gun salute?), the pastor’s heartfelt message, and their Scoutmaster Emeritus’s tribute to one of his best buddies, a friend of 30+ years. This man’s son and family have been our longtime dear friends. It was our honor to honor his life with them.

Monday we celebrated the first “school day” of summer, and the Bay Area whooped it up for the NBA win of our team, the Golden State Warriors. If you knew me in my SoCal life, this surprises you; but go on, be surprised at what raising two boys in the Bay Area can do for a mama’s respect for basketball!

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my beloved Mor-Mor’s (mother’s mother) heaven-home-going. I miss her like crazy; anyone who ever met her feels the same. When my dad was flying Pan Am jets and my dear mom was working, little Mor was it: on duty, making cookies, wooden-spooning naughty bottoms, keeping all of us–and friends–in line.

Yesterday, I read these verses in Proverbs (14:10, 13):
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Grief and joy. They coexist in the heart. Sometimes we lean more fully to one or the other, while on occasion, they lean heavily together. Brene Brown wrote (coincidentally, of her own daughter’s recent high school graduation): “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away. The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief. Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow. Both are strong. Both are true.”

We celebrated Teen and his peers who have achieved a milestone in their yet-young lives. We celebrated the well-lived long lives of my friend’s dad and my grandma.

We celebrated the Warriors’ win. And last night we (belatedly) celebrated Tween’s 13th birthday and (early) celebrated Father’s Day with dinner and a movie [Wonder Woman, highly recommend!].

Life goes on. In each day, in daily life, we embrace emotional fullness: breath, movement, work, rest, feelings, enjoyment, mourning. Yesterday I felt like my sweet Mor-Mor moved through the day with me: through waking kids, work stuff, kid and family stuff, and family night out. I felt like she smiled down us, like she would have approved, if she could have been here to do so, that we ‘celebrated’ her departure by celebrating the lives we live in the moment.

Here’s to life, and to fully living in the moment all of this beautiful life that deserves celebrating!

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24 Years and Counting

Today we celebrate 24 years of marriage.

We met at 17, started dating at 20, got engaged at 22, and married at 23.

We have now been married more than half our lives.

In that time, we have lived in seven homes in three counties in one state. We have worked at nine jobs, including four churches, three of which we both served professionally. We have raised two incredible sons.

I can’t begin to quantify how many sermons he’s preached or articles I’ve written. How many camps, retreats, or mission trips we’ve organized. How many Bible lessons we’ve taught, or cups of coffee we’ve shared with people we love. Nor how many weddings he’s officiated.

For obvious reasons, the weddings are on my mind today. Some would say we got lucky, that marrying so young could have gone badly. We know some for whom that was the case. Thankfully, not us, and thankfully, we’ve learned a few things about marriage in this half of life.

JOY is contagious.
Jesus, Others, You. It may be cliché, but it is also the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God, and love others as yourself. From before our beginning as a couple, we committed to love God first and foremost. We recognized our love for one another as His gift, to nurture with an outpouring of His love for us as individuals and as a couple. We put church and activities that would help us grow in love with God and each other first on our calendar, careful not to let other activities compete (at least not regularly) for space in our lives that belonged to God.

Remember why you fell in love.
Romance is sappy, staring-deeply-into-eyes fun. But romance ebbs and flows. Sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and actively remember those qualities about your spouse that weakened your knees: his sense of humor or the way his hug wrapped you up and made you feel safe or the laughs you shared playing board games.

Invest time.
Regularly. Ideally, daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally. Shared time is the investment you make often in order to have something to draw on when you need it most. Daily could be as little as a fifteen-minute check-in chat after work. Weekly might be a walk around the block, a date night, a Sunday lunch. Monthly or seasonally, depending on your life stage and/or budget, might be a splurge date or an overnight get-away.

Grow.
Everything that has life grows. Or it dies. So you might as well be clear up front: I’m not going to get in a rut. Each of you will grow, learn, and change, and your relationship will need to flex in order to accommodate your individual growth. It’s a good thing, and it will make you more interesting. Just be sure to grow in complimentary directions.

Experiences over stuff.
Make memories, not collections. We’re all drowning in stuff and spend way too many hours of our lives managing all the stuff: cleaning, dusting, moving it from one place to another, reorganizing, decluttering, (re)gifting. Instead, we need more shared time together, more laughter and play and memory-making that in the long run will require no more work than sharing stories with family and friends for generations.

Talk. A lot.
Be honest. No topic too sacred, nothing off-limits. Communication is the basic building block you stack over and over and over in order to build a shared life. You have to talk in order to avoid and resolve conflict, which will do its best to topple all the hard-placed blocks. Learn to speak graciously, to honor each other with your words by building each other up, lavishing encouragement, being his/her #1 fan. Keep criticism to a minimum.

Play.
Marriage can be a lot of work if you don’t balance it with some just-because fun. What did you do on dates pre-marriage? Do more of that. See movies. Eat meals out, or cook meals in. Go to museums, take classes, and develop new hobbies. Enjoy the big beautiful world on a hike. Take a trip—even a day trip—to somewhere new, or visit your old stomping grounds. Enjoy each other’s company.

Play for the same team.
Think of your marriage as a team: What does winning look like? What position(s) do you play? How can you work together rather than against each other? Stop trying to keep individual score (I took the trash out last week… Yah, but I emptied the dishwasher this morning) and figure out how to complement each other’s strengths and shore up each other’s weaknesses.

Forgive.
Most of us misunderstand forgiveness. We think it means claiming that whatever the offense, it didn’t matter. To the contrary, forgiveness means the offense absolutely mattered, but I will choose to live with the consequences so we can both move on. Forgiveness involves addressing the conflict honestly and then agreeing to new boundaries to prevent further hurt, including agreeing not to bring it up again. It is hard, necessary work for any substantial relationship.

Keep it simple.
Don’t put off date night until you have the sitter and the reservation at the fancy-schmancy A-list restaurant. Put the kids to bed early, order pizza, and put in a DVD if you have to. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself, your spouse, your kids, your kids’ schools or teachers or coaches, your neighbors… Don’t make life harder than it will be already. Keep your priorities straight, and keep it simple.

Your spouse won’t meet all your needs.
No one person will satisfy all your needs. Adulting requires that you meet more than a few of your own needs, and sometimes that involves sucking it up when you feel dissatisfied. Also, cultivate friends you can talk to and play with when your spouse isn’t available. Just remember: they don’t come first in your heart’s priorities.

Serve one another in love.
Every time Guy officiates at a wedding I hear him say: “Marriage is not 50-50. Marriage is 100-100. Marriage is both partners all in for the sake of the relationship. I give everything I am, and she gives everything she is, and together we make one whole.”

I admit, service is not my strong suit. Sometimes I notice myself feeling more than a little annoyed at all the mundane tasks I do that seem to go unnoticed. At those times I remind myself that our marriage is built on mutual service. Some days it takes a lot of service on my part; other days, he will pick up all the slack. It’s a give-and-take, both of us intending to give more than we take.

Today we have followed our own advice. After shuffling the kids out the door and off to school, we began our day in a yoga class together, a new-to-us practice that grounds us in health and wellness and community with our friends and neighbors. We each did our individual work, then ran errands together for the sake of our family. We both participated in chores and dinner prep. The kids have homework, so we made a simple dinner: a big Greek salad, whole wheat pita bread and hummus, corn on the cob, with cherries for dessert. We opened a nicer-than-usual bottle of wine—a Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc—from a winery we have visited for special occasions with loved ones. We sip from glasses that belonged to Guy’s grandparents, engraved with the initial and name I adopted 24 years ago today.

Here’s to 24 years, and many, many more!

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re:create recess

In 2015 I decided to adopt a word (actually, a phrase) that significantly affected my decision-making: put yourself in the way of beauty. Unlike any resolution or goal setting before it, that phrase began a work in my being–mind, heart, body, soul–that continues to this day.

Create was my 2016 theme, and it picked up where beauty left off. However, it didn’t take long to recognize the connection between creativity and play. I began to feel more playful, to enjoy life in new and fulfilling ways. Yes, sometimes creativity involves hard work, and still creative work can feel playful.

Which makes sense when you think that we often use recreation as a synonym for play. To recreate means: “to refresh by means of relaxation and enjoyment, as restore physically or mentally.” The creative process refreshes and relaxes me, leading to joy as I differently engage my body and mind in play.recess

I wondered if play would be my 2017 theme. But no, I’m not done with create. Yet I am interested in exploring the association between creativity and play and how both have the power to re-create (transform) us and the world around us. Hence, re:create—another take on create (“re:”) with an emphasis on play.

2016 was a mixed bag. Personally we had joys and more than a few bumps. So did our friends. And our nation experienced, arguably, one of the worst divides I’ve witnessed in my adult life. One month into 2017 and less than two weeks into a new president, the divide seems to be widening. Now more than ever we need to create, to play, to enjoy some good ol’ fashioned recess (preferably minus the playground bully, but we’ll try to ignore him…)

We can create…

…art, beauty, childhood and childlikeness, community, compassion, design, experience, family, friendship, growth, health, home, hope, innovation, joy, laughter, legacy, love, marriage, meals, memories, music, peace, play, poetry, rituals, service, stories, traditions…

Questions to ponder (and an answer):
What do you create? Or, what activities fill your days with life and passion?
I create a life, love, a home, a safe shelter for my guys. I create experiences, memories, traditions and rituals that enrich our life together. I create hospitality for friends and space to go deeper together. With all these beloved people, I create relationship, friendship, and laughter. We create hope and courage for one another when things get rough. I have created this blog as a means to record and reflect on miracles in the mundane, and through this blog I have created a community of writers/creatives and readers.
How do you recreate/play?
How does recreation affect other arenas of your life?
Why do you re/create?
How has creativity/play recreated your heart, mind, soul, body, life?

Next Wednesday I’ll feature 2017’s first guest post, and throughout the year we will hear from creatives of all stripes and spots: parents, teachers, painters, musicians, designers, coaches, pastors, thinkers, and of course, writers… They will inspire and challenge us with their unique expressions of creativity, play, and transformation. I’m calling this re:create recess and, just like in elementary school, I can’t wait to get to playtime!

Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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Advent Week 1 -The Promise of Joy

road

No matter how far in advance I begin preparing for Advent–and as church Communication Director, that can be much farther in advance than you’d think–the first Sunday of Advent always strikes me as a bit of a surprise.

End-August through end-November are my professional busy season, reflecting on the past year as I compile the annual report and projecting forward as we plan for Advent and the new year. Personally, I lose track of the chronological calendar; I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving, wait, Thanksgiving is over…? I need Advent to locate me in time again.

More than Christmastime, when we decorate and bake and celebrate, I need Advent to rouse my slumbering soul, to reawaken my wonder. I need Advent to remind me to expect God to show up in unexpected ways.

I need Advent to hear God’s promise of joy.

This morning the church was beautifully decorated with Christmas trees sparkling with gold and silver ornaments and twinkling white lights. This morning our friends processed to the chancel and, as a family, read from Luke 1 and led us in prayer as they lit the first candle of Advent.

This morning we made a baptismal pledge to help a young family raise their son in faith. His parents grew up side-by-side in this church; his grandparents on both sides are stalwart members; this sweet boy is named for his grandfathers–John, his maternal grandfather, and Wellwood, his paternal grandfather (Woody). His parents are Eric and Liz.

Pastor handed Eric a microphone and invited him to read a Scripture. He read the verse painted above his son’s crib, Luke 1:13-14:

13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth…

This baby John receiving the sacrament of baptism, his mother is named Elizabeth. His great-grandmother Elizabeth also gave birth to a John, his grandfather for whom he is named. And way back when, God unexpectedly showed up to grant the joy of answered long-prayed prayers by another Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist.

The story of which just happened to be today’s Scripture text.

God shows up in wonder. We may wait for a long journey; we may struggle in the waiting; we may be righteous and still a little bit sad; we may–we do!–need God to show up in unexpected ways. God is good. God is faithful. God promises joy, the joy of His presence no matter whether the circumstances incline us to happiness. I need Advent to remind me to open my eyes to God’s presence, God’s wonder, God’s joy.

Guy snuggling little John at a neighborhood block party

Guy snuggling little John at a neighborhood block party

Week 1 – The Promise of Joy
November 27-December 3

 Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle): The first candle represents the promise of joy.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:5-25

Read: Zechariah and Elizabeth grew old in righteousness but childlessness had stolen their joy. When they least expected it, the angel Gabriel delivered God’s promise of joy: Elizabeth would bear a son! Their long-prayed prayers would be answered at last. John would be a joy and delight to his parents and cause many to rejoice as he prepared people for the Lord.

Pray: Dear God, we eagerly anticipate your joy as you prepare our hearts for your Son. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday Joshua 23:14 What promises has God fulfilled for you?
Tuesday 1 Chronicles 16:8-11 What wonderful acts has God done? Rejoice!
Wednesday Psalm 40:1-3 How do you actively wait for the Lord?
Thursday Isaiah 12:2-4 What difference does trusting God make in your daily life?
Friday 2 Peter 3:9 When has it felt like the Lord was slow in keeping His promise? What hope does this verse offer?
Saturday Jude 24-25 When has God kept you from stumbling?

Thankful Thursday – Middle School Music

bandWhen my kids were in elementary school, I’m not sure I could have predicted how much I would enjoy middle school band concerts. Teen skipped school music altogether, but Tween got bit by the band bug, particularly the trumpet. He loves it, he seems to have aptitude for it, and he’s got two pretty incredible teachers: one at school for five instructional hours plus after-school jazz band; and another, a professional jazz musician and a funny, generous guy who musically hangs out with Tween a few times a month.

This week I attended the spring band concert. Due to a work commitment I got there late, just as the 6th grade band (Tween’s group) began their final piece. Still, I smiled ear-to-ear through the 7th & 8th grade band performance.

There’s a big jump between elementary music (one hour a week) and middle school music (5+ hours a week). Whereas before we strained to hear music between squeaks, now we hear melody and harmony. And the similar jump between 6th grade band and 7th/8th grade band sounds tremendous.

I love watching kids develop creativity. Seeing pimply, gorgeous, awkward kids count furiously and focus ferociously. Wiggle just a little because the rhythm moves more than their instruments. Kids learning about art and together creating beautiful music; learning to express their thoughts, heart, soul, drama through a productive medium. Music has created a safe place for the one kid in a sea of white shirts who forgot and wore blue instead; for the darling who wears a tiara because she is royalty; for the hipster who wears a fedora because: jazz.

Tween is exceptionally bright but not yet easily suited to classroom achievements. He’ll get there, but he’s only in 6th grade. For now, I am thrilled he gets excited to go to school because he has Band 1st period. For at least one hour of every school day, he works cooperatively with teacher and classmates to create something bigger than each individual contribution. No tests, no pressure, just FUN. Well, maybe some pressure, as he has to do his part, and sometime his part is a solo. Still, making music is mostly just fun. He’s learning so many valuable life skills beyond music while simultaneously learning to appreciate, enjoy and play fantastic music. It makes the other, harder, less fun parts of a middle school day bearable.

Because: music.

And I am so thankful!